Landowner in race against time to prevent vulture fund selling his farm

A landowner in Co. Westmeath is in a race against time to prevent a vulture fund selling his family farm at the end of the month.

Hughie Reynolds ran into difficulties a number of years ago. Efforts to try and resolve the situation with his bank didn’t work out and he was alerted by post last year that his loan had been sold to a vulture fund.

Speaking to AgriLand, he said: “I tried to do a deal; but, it didn’t work out. My situation at the moment is that a vulture fund is going to sell 44ac of my land on February 28 in an online auction.

“I understand that people have to pay their debts. But, I have no control over the online auction; I should be able to have control over the sale of my land.

There is 44ac up for auction with a guide price of €220,000; that’s €5,000/ac, which is way under the actual value of the land.

Reynolds described the vulture fund as “a ruthless outfit” and “faceless“.

“My biggest fear is that they could drop the hammer at €3,000-4,000/ac and walk away, once they get their pound of flesh,” he added.

The 44ac of land – which Reynolds inherited from an uncle – is in two separate parcels and is located in Coole, Co. Westmeath.

The landowner claims that the vulture fund purchased his loan for 20% of its actual value and is looking to make at least a 10% profit on its outlay as well as covering its own fees.

Reynolds is taking every viable route available to him to prevent the sale of his land. If the auction goes ahead, it would leave him with just a few acres left in his name.

The vast majority of the 119 lots going for auction at the end of this month are commercial, with a small selection of sites, residential and farm land lots also listed.

The lots relating to farm land vary in size from just a few acres up to 55ac.

A bidding deposit of €4,500 is required to take part in the auction. Reynolds also claimed that he has been told that someone sharing his surname is unable to place a bid on his land.

‘Viable family farms should be saved at all cost’

Meanwhile, the rural development chairman of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), Seamus Sherlock, said he finds it “devastating” to see vulture funds selling land belonging to “genuine farmers who are making efforts to try and deal with their debt”.

He believes that this will be a huge deal in the next few months.

Speaking to AgriLand, Sherlock said: “Nobody deserves to get something for nothing; people have to pay their debt. But, viable family farms should be saved at all costs.

I’m getting calls every week from people who are petrified of vulture funds. They won’t deal with people; there has been a point blank refusal.

“A lot of these people are very genuine; their debts need to be restructured over 10 or 15 years in order for them to pay the full amount. These farmers are caught between a rock and a hard place.”

Concerns

Meanwhile, one of the biggest concerns that Sherlock has is that it is unclear how much vulture funds are purchasing loans for.

“A lot of different figures have been bandied about – between 20% and 50%. I know farmers who have offered banks 60-70% of the value of the debt and have been refused,” he said.

Sherlock confirmed that he will be raising the issue with various MEPs during a trip to Brussels this week and will be campaigning on the matter in the weeks ahead.